April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. The Oral Cancer Foundation encourages dental and medical professionals to conduct free oral cancer screenings nationwide throughout April. The observance aims to raise people’s awareness of the dangers of oral cancer and to encourage good dental hygiene and healthier lifestyles to prevent the disease.
Oral cancer refers to cancer of the mouth or throat. More men than women get oral cancer. You might be at greater risk for oral cancer if you:
- Smoke or chew tobacco.
- Drink alcohol excessively.
- Are 55 years of age or older.
- Are exposed to the sun in excess.
- Have a certain type of human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Have the skin disease lichen planus, certain hereditary blood conditions, or graft-versus-host disease.
- Have a compromised immune system.
Oral cancers are treatable when they are detected early, but there are a number of things you can do to prevent oral cancer. If you smoke, take measures to quit. If you don’t yet smoke, don’t start. Limit your alcohol intake. Women should not have more than one drink per day, and men should not exceed two drinks per day. Stay out of direct sunlight, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest. If you must go out into the sun, use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables to stay healthy.
Oral cancer is treatable, especially when detected at early stages. Ask your dentist to do an oral screening during your regular checkups. Also, inspect your mouth in the mirror at least once a month. Tell your dentist immediately if you notice something out of the ordinary.
If you do develop oral cancer, your doctors may opt for various treatments, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and other targeted therapies that can be used alone or in combination with other treatments. Prevention, however, is always better than cure. Live a healthy lifestyle and practice good dental hygiene to minimize your risks for developing oral cancer.